As Ethiopian Refugees Flee, Alight Teams Mobilize to Do the Doable
Since November 2020, our Alight team in Sudan and our team in Ethiopia have been responding to the devastating humanitarian crisis that continues unraveling in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. When war broke out in Tigray, hospitals shut down and there was widespread sexual violence. 2 million people in Ethiopia fled to other parts of the country and more than 60,000 refugees crossed into Sudan.
The crisis is complex and devastating, and it’s happening on both sides of the border. And Alight has teams on both sides of the border. Our teams are working to respond to the human side of this conflict and receive these individuals and families, offering services and support.
Join us in meeting Ethiopian families with dignity and humanity?
Response in Tunaydbah and Um Rakuba Refugee Camps, Sudan
Roughly 40,000 refugees have fled to Tunaydbah and Um Rakuba Camps in Gedaref State, eastern Sudan, which is one of the locations where our Sudan team is currently operating. Tunaydbah Camp opened when other camps reached capacity. Here, Alight is providing protection services, shelter, water, and medical care, fixtures within the community that are vital to addressing people’s physical and emotional needs.
Many refugees arriving in Sudan from Tigray have been walking for days, through active combat. Some arrive without papers, without shoes, and some of the children are still in their school clothes. Some people arrive even in their night clothes, since the conflict reached them while sleeping. Many people haven’t had water for days.
Alight teams meet them in the condition they’re in, providing physical comforts but also the emotional safety net that’s so critically needed after experiencing such trauma. We provide spaces for women to voice their concerns, process trauma, and get connected to services. We let people talk about the trauma they’ve witnessed and gone through, acknowledging that we see them; that we are taking the time to stop and listen and show compassion; that they are not alone.
Many people fleeing Tigray are highly educated, and they have generously given their time and talents to support our efforts in the camp. Our incredible volunteer force includes both refugees and members of the host Sudanese community, including a judge and a forensic scientist. These are people who, instead of turning inward, have turned outward to lend assistance. Volunteers are also helping with water, sanitation, and engineering activities, presenting ideas and designs for latrines and pipelines for community network services.
“When I feel really frustrated and challenged, with pressure coming from different places, I think of our volunteers and our staff,” said Heidi Deidrich, Alight Sudan Country Director, “and I know that I can keep doing this work.”
Responding in Tigray
Alight’s team inside of Ethiopia’s Tigray has also been responding to the crisis for several months, including trucking water to communities that had been disconnected or isolated from safe drinking water sources.
Today, Alight’s team is responding to support families in the eastern portion of Tigray. Their work is focused in two key areas: protection support and shelter.
In the course of the conflict and in fleeing their home communities, Ethiopian families have been disconnected from their community protection structures and mechanisms. And many people – especially women and girls – may have suffered violence or trauma in their journey to safety. In displaced communities, Alight is responding to help survivors with the counseling and pyscho-social support they need to cope with the trauma they’ve experienced. We’re also working to build child-friendly spaces – 16 in total – where kids will be safe and can just be kids.
For months, families have been sheltering wherever they can, in schools and other public buildings. Conditions are far too crowded and can be unsafe with so many people living in such close proximity. Especially with COVID-19 and other diseases, families need better shelter solutions. Alight is working to construct temporary emergency shelters, where each family will have its own contained and private space away from others. Many people left their homes with little to nothing, and they need more than just shelter. Alight is also providing non-food item relief kits – which include mattresses and blankets.
The situation in Tigray is changing all the time. As long as we can reach communities, we’ll be there providing lifesaving services and support. And as humanitarian access improves, we’ll collaborate with displaced communities to help in whatever ways are most helpful. Thanks to support from the American people and the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance at USAID for funding Alight’s response.
It’s All About Community
When thousands of people move into a region following a crisis, all too often the people who were already living in that area are forgotten. So we work to involve the host community in all that we do, ensuring that not only are their voices included, but their needs are met as well.
We meet with community leaders regularly, listening to their concerns and working together to get things done. Despite limited resources to support host communities, we’re thinking creatively, planning to co-design Changemakers 365 projects to launch small, quick ideas that are driven by the community.
These small-scale, high-impact projects show that we are grateful, that we’re willing to work together, that we see them and know they have needs. It’s also about the little things, stopping and shopping in local stores and patronizing local businesses, contributing to the economy. We want them to know that they’re partners.
“At the onset of this crisis, it was the people of Gedaref who responded first who opened their homes and gave clothing and food,” said Heidi. “That is the true spirit of Sudan—a generous, kind, caring, loving community and country. I believe that Alight values are Sudan values, and that us becoming Alight in Sudan aligns with what it is to be Sudanese.”
You Can Help Ethiopian Families
The crisis unfolding for Ethiopian refugees and displaced communities is heartbreaking. But there is hope as seen in the incredible generosity and humanity shown by refugee volunteers, host communities, and the tenacity of our on-the-ground teams who work around the clock in some of the toughest conditions.
But we can’t do it alone. With your support, we can help Ethiopian families get back on their feet. You can give now to support our emergency efforts, and help spread hope for thousands of people living on the brink.